Last year, the Fighting Tigers beat Jonathan Alder by one point to advance to the regional final game against West Muskingum. This year, Mandi Boykin's 12-foot game-winning runner propelled the No. 3 team in the state to a one-point win against Oak Hill, and a chance for a consecutive state tournament appearance. Ironton defeated the Lady Oaks 33-32 in a defensive battle in Wednesday's regional semifinal game in Lancaster.
That appearance, though, will depend on if the Fighting Tigers can hold off No. 6 Sugarcreek Garaway in the regional finals. The Lady Pirates defeated Bishop Ready in the other regional semifinal 56-40. Based on Ironton's defensive performance Wednesday, that just may happen for coach Amy Hughes' team.
“Our defense is excellent. Our kids know how to play ‘D,' Hughes said. “They work hard, they're quick and tough, and we make it difficult for the other team to score. We make teams shoot off-balance, difficult shots.”
However, Ironton will have to bring its defensive and offensive game against Garaway. The Lady Pirates are a young team, full of freshmen and sophomores, but do have four seniors - Bree Zehnder, Molly Hershberger, Tessa Swartzentruber and Carol Stingel - to add leadership.
“Garaway is a good, well-coached team. They have ball handlers, shooters, post-game, and good defense,” said Hughes.
Ironton had a tough time hitting their open shots in its regional semifinals, but the Fighting Tigers' scrappy defensive effort earned them a victory.
“We had an off night shooting. We were wide open and no one could hit a basket. That rarely happens,” said Hughes. “Not all five players will be off like that again, but in our case, if that happens again, our defense will step up.”
Ironton knows the road they are on and where they want to go from Saturday's regional final. In fact, Hughes has been anticipating the matchup with the Lady Pirates for quite some time.
“Getting here again has been a goal for us all season,” she said. “We've been preparing for Garaway since January. We targeted them as our potential opponent in this game and we have been practicing for them since.”
The Lady Fighting Tigers are preparing for the game the same as they have prepared for every other game.
“We're pretty confident going into the game. Garaway is a good team, but I guess it's 50-50,” Hughes said. ”We're just going to play aggressive defense, rebound, and run lots of fast breaks. Not more of anything else.”
Tip-off is this afternonon at 1:30 p.m. The winner will move on the state tournament, taking on the winner of Garfield Heights Trinity and Youngstown Ursuline on March 16 at 6 p.m. in Columbus.